Belarusian opposition publishes video of drone flying over Russian A-50

Belarus A-50 drone video screenshot
ByPol / Youtube

UPDATE 03-03-2023, 11:00 (UTC +3): The initial report, published in the afternoon of March 2, 2023, followed the claim that the video showed a snippet of an attack that took place on February 26. However, new information has come to light with the release of the full video by ByPol later the same day. According to ByPol, the video actually depicts a reconnaissance flight ahead of the strike, and not the attack itself. The story was modified to reflect that. 

UPDATE 03-05-2023, 18:00 (UTC +3): Later on March 3, 2023, a video of what PyPol claims to be the actual attack was published on social media. The video has been added in an update at the end of this report.

Video footage has been posted online, allegedly showing a first-person view (FPV) from a drone overflying a Russian Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft. 

The flight allegedly took place sometime before February 26, 2023, at Machulishchy air base in Belarus. The base is used by Russian Aerospace Forces to launch attacks on Ukraine.  

The video was shared by ByPol, a Belarusian resistance organization formed by former law enforcement officers who changed their loyalties and went on to oppose the regime of the official Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. 

According to the video description, the flight was a reconnaissance mission performed ahead of the attack on February 26. 

“For two weeks Belarusian partisans conducted reconnaissance at the military air base Machulishchy with the help of civilian drones, bought in a shop. During one of the successful operations, a drone not only entered a guarded territory of the base and flew close to a Russian AEW&C aircraft A-50U, but even landed on its radar station (“dish”). How did the famous anti-drone warfare systems, that millions of taxpayers’ rubles have been spent on, perform? The answer is obvious – they did nothing,” the description under the video reads. 

ByPol claims the attack was successful and the A-50 aircraft stationed at the base was damaged. So far there has been no independent confirmation regarding the result of the attack. 

The video footage shows the drone flying over the airfield and coming towards the aircraft. The drone then lands on the rotodome of the jet, before taking off and flying away. 

A day before, a short snippet of the video, showing the drone approaching the A-50, was shared by Belarusian oppositional newspaper Nasha Niva. The newspaper claimed the snipped showed a part of the attack, although that later turned out to be false. 

Disputed results

While the available footage confirms that the attack could have taken place, it does not confirm that it was successful.  

According to ByPol, the radar dish and the cockpit of the A-50 were damaged by the impact of two explosives-filled drones on February 26. 

Several satellite images of the air base, published by imaging company Maxar, show the aircraft ostensibly intact, with only the snow cover over the aircraft fuselage being partially disturbed. 

On March 1, 2023, several days after the attack, Belarusian TV channels showed what they claimed to be the same aircraft, apparently intact, taking off and flying back to Russia. 

According to Belarusian Hajun, a project which monitors the activity of resistance groups on Belarusian territory, the aircraft flew to Russia for repairs, as the damage it sustained prevented it from performing further operations. 

The project also claims that engineers, flown in from Russia immediately after the attack, have been working on the A-50 for several days, returning it to flightworthy condition, so it could return to Russia. 

Meanwhile, both Belarusian and Russian authorities have denied that the attack took place. 

A very important aircraft 

The Beriev A-50 is the Soviet and Russian equivalent of Western Boeing E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft. 

Based on the Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane, the A-50 features the Vega-M radar, which reportedly can track airborne targets at distances of up to 600 kilometers (370 miles). 

The Russian Aerospace Forces possess three unmodified A-50 aircraft, as well as six A-50Us, upgraded in the 2010s with new electric equipment. 

Belarusian resistance members claim to have damaged an A-50U, registered RF-86843, which was one of several A-50s constantly used by Russia to track Ukrainian air activity and launch aerial attacks inside the country. 

UPDATE 03-05-2023, 18:00 (UTC +3): In the afternoon of March 3, 2023, the video of the alleged attack was published on social media. In it, a drone is seen landing on a satellite communications (SATCOM) dome of the A-50. The video then cuts off due to what is claimed to be an explosion.

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